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Massachusetts Town Seeks To License Wood-Burning Fireplaces and Stoves

January 27, 1986

AMHERST, Mass. (AP) _ There are so many wood stoves and fireplaces in this college community that the Board of Health is considering licensing the residents in an effort to cut the smoke that hangs over town each winter.

Before getting a free license, residents in this town of 30,000 would be required to pass a test measuring knowledge of dampers, firewood seasoning and combustion. Violators would be subject to a $50 fine.

One elderly resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity, says the plan was written by ″professors who don’t know how to light a fire.″ The town is home to the University of Massachusetts and Amherst and Hampshire colleges.

Most residents will be able to ignore the law, he said, because ″the professors will be so busy looking up each other’s flues that they won’t have time to bother with anybody else.″

The town’s health board votes on the plan Feb. 12. The regulations would require a house’s residents to have someone on hand with a license before a ″solid fuel-burning device,″ including wood and coal stoves and fireplaces, could be lit.

″Wood smoke is a growing problem and it can create serious health problems,″ said board chairman David Ross, who estimated that the town has more than 1,000 wood stoves.

″The complaints have become an everyday affair,″ he said. ″Every time one of the board members walks down the street, someone urges us to do something about the smoke.″

The board has also established rules setting limits on the thickness of smoke from residential chimneys. Violators of those rules will be subject to fines ranging from $50 to $500.

″The test is fairly simple,″ Ross said. ″A lot of people may know the answers already, but some may learn something by just reading over the questions and answers in our pamphlet.″

Enforcement would be ″complaint-initiated,″ he said. ″We’ll go out when we get calls about a problem.″

Mark Geres of the state Office of Energy Resources said a survey taken four years ago showed about one-quarter of the state’s households, or 512,000 homes, were heated at least in part by wood.

The only other community in Massachusetts to take advantage of legislation allowing localities to enforce regulations on wood smoke pollution has been the nearby city of Northampton.

Peter J. McErlain, Northampton health agent, said the rules have been in place there for six weeks, but no fines have been levied yet.

″We’ve issued a number of violation notices ordering corrective action and most residents have responded favorably,″ he said.

McErlain said the primary targets of the Northampton rules are newer wood stoves that emit ″the real black smoke,″ because they burn at lower temperatures.

″The old-fashioned potbelly stoves and fireplaces aren’t the problem, because they aren’t airtight,″ he said.

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